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Affordable and reliable child care has been a challenge that many working women face when their maternity leave is over and they must re-join the workforce. Retaining trained and ambitious women is key for organizations who aim to develop these women and build their leadership pipeline. This roundtable focused on how organizations have addressed childcare needs of their employees. This event was designed for human resource leaders, compensation and benefits professionals, diversity professionals and ERG leaders.

Catalyst India WRC recently held a roundtable that was centered on childcare organizational trends. The event, which was hosted in Bangalore by Northern Trust, brought out more than 20 attendees from Accenture, TCS, Wells Fargo, Sodexo, Genpact, Deloitte, Thompson Reuters, Tesco, and other Catalyst member organizations. All of the attendees shared perspectives and learned about the need for organizations to focus on childcare as well as the challenges and opportunities in this space. There were also representatives from NASSCOM an external expert from WeCare, Managing Director Ms. Reshma Srinivasan participated.

Ms. Prakriti Panwar, Head of Diversity and Inclusion APAC, Northern Operating Services Private Limited, kicked-off the event with remarks about the three aspects of the need for childcare from an organizational perspective. Ms. Panwar highlighted how there is a lack of government programs, legislation, subsidies or regulations; lack of family support, with the onus of primary childcare falling on the mother in India’s society and with the increase of the nuclear family in urban locations and associated dearth of family and social support; and how organizational support currently exists in the form of policies. But even flex work arrangements and childcare support programs sometimes fall short if organizational culture doesn’t support employees taking advantage of these.

During the session, Mosur Saisekar, Chief Executive Officer, Northern Operating Services Private Limited, shared his perspective as a senior leader and champion of D&I. In an organization that prizes service, integrity and expertise, D&I is ingrained in the culture. The biggest challenges to uptake he outlined were funding, employee participation and changing trends and the need to balance local needs with global standards. And from his perspective, the best measure of impact of D&I initiatives is employee engagement and retention.

Aarti Shyamsunder, PhD, Director, Research, Catalyst, set the context for the discussion by sharing the importance of women’s inclusion in education, employment and society at large. And key to this inclusion, especially in the Indian sector, is women’s ability to return to work after having children and thus, having childcare support from organizations is an important success factor.

Shachi Irde, Executive Director, Catalyst India WRC, led the round table conversation. She started by laying out both the employer and employee perspective when it comes to the challenges and issues surrounding access to quality childcare.

The last segment of the session was an “Expert Speak” overview from a third-party perspective, from WeCare’s MD, Reshma Srinivasan. Here are some highlights from her discussion:

  • The service provider is always challenged as to which department it comes under. At the time of setting up the daycare center it falls under facilities and post that it falls under HR care. The challenge is when repairs or additions to the facility need to be done. The service provider typically gets tossed between the two departments.

  • One of the key requests the service provider had for organisations was to set right expectations with parents. Especially over indulgent first time parents who also tend to not discipline their child or agree to all demands made by the child.

  • Training the care provider presents a challenge, especially in India where there are no certifications or education system that qualifies them as care giver.  Service provider like WeCare ends up spends time, effort and money on training them.

1) The business case for organizations providing childcare support.

  • The key business case seemed to center around retention of women at lower-to-mid-levels in order to build a leadership pipeline.

  • Others used a marketing tactic to signal their intent as employers of choice for women.

  • Internal positioning required a cost-benefit analysis presented to senior leadership, as well as justification provided mostly around the infrastructure costs and requirements for onsite daycare as well as legal and moral liability for both onsite and nearby daycare.

  • The requirements and considerations are changing, especially as basic needs are met. Today, some progressive organizations are looking into providing childcare support for children with special needs, for adopted children, for night shift employees etc.

  • Childcare vendors had to be vetted thoroughly through an auditing process with multiple rounds of checks and balances built in.

2) Essential considerations for organizations

  • Onsite or near office?

    • The top preference is onsite childcare, but that comes with associated risks and challenges. Organizations that are providing these facilities need to justify this cost. Moreover, in leased facilities versus owned, developers might not agree to build these centers.

    • Second preference is offsite facilities where location is a big factor. For infants and very young children, parents prefer daycare centers located closer to the organization. For older children, they prefer if the daycare is closer to their school or even home.

  • Due diligence and governance is critical.

    • Even before making the decision of providing childcare centers, organizations should do security audits on the providers, create a steering committee, conduct regular surprise status checks and audits, and have a parent committee.

    • Organizations end up having tie-ups with up to 10 or 12 different vendors in this fragmented market.

    • Security, emergency preparedness, facilities, and HR should all get involved.

  • Costs and ROI

    • While setting up childcare and support systems is an undeniable cost to organizations, the opportunity cost in losing talent is higher. Mothers unable to find childcare opt to go other places.

    • Some organizations have a cost-sharing model with employees (67%-33%, 50-50%) where as they scale up, they can pass on the savings to employee.

    • Arrangements with vendors differ in regards to discounts, slab-wise pricing, subsidies based on volume occupancy committed, etc. Organizations also provide an allowance in some cases to parents.

    • Projecting need is tricky. 5-10% of your employee base is a rule of thumb, especially in larger organizations. But often, HR conducts trend analyses to project needs as workforce demographics keep changing.

“With onsite daycare, you need space…where you can have 100 employees working, you can have only 25 kids. So when you talk about space and costs to leadership, that’s when you find out just how serious they are about diversity!”

“Different solutions work for different cases. Child’s age, location of the office, home and school, cost and other factors all have to be considered simultaneously. Maternity Leave is about recovery; providing childcare facilities is about support.”

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